Welcome to the pitch review series, where I’m taking a look at the best pitches of each pitch type from 2021! Today, we’re taking a look at the top five sliders from last year!
If you’d like some more details on this series, take a look at the top five changeups article (and also just in case you want to see some pretty awesome changeups). Also check out the rest of the series so far, including:
- The 5 Best Curveballs of 2021
- The 5 Best Cutters of 2021
- The 5 Best Fastballs of 2021
- The 5 Best Sinkers of 2021
Anyways, here are the top five sliders from 2021!
5. Jon Gray
If there’s one thing Jon Gray has hung his hat on all these years, it’s his slider. It’s always been his main strikeout pitch, and while it’s generally been a pretty good swing-and-miss pitch over the years, his command on the pitch has been inconsistent.
Take 2020 for example—Gray’s slider posted a 37.7% chase rate and 18.2% SwStr rate, both great numbers. And in fact, hitters had just a .188 average against the pitch. The problem? Gray laid the pitch in there a bit too much, to the tune of a .375 ISO against (which is awful).
But last year, Gray’s slider looked really good, posting a 32.2% chase rate, 18% SwStr rate, .238 wOBA against, and a much better .143 ISO against.
So what was Gray’s problem then? Why did he end the year with a 4.59 ERA? To answer that question, you need look no further than Gray’s fastball and changeup.
Gray’s fastball got tattooed last year, with hitters posting a .395 wOBA and a .331/.402/.518 line against the pitch. And his changeup didn’t fare much better, with a .356 wOBA and .316 ISO against, and it didn’t even have the swing-and-miss numbers to buffer it (just a 25.7% chase rate and 7.2% SwStr rate).
In essence, Gray was a one-trick pony last year. He has a great slider and that’s about it.
Surely it was a Coors Field problem though, right? Now he’s in Texas, that should be better, right? It’s never a bad thing for a pitcher to get out of Coors Field, but I don’t know how much it’s realistically going to help Gray. Last year, Gray had a 4.02 ERA at home and a 5.22 ERA on the road, and on his career, he’s got a 4.54 ERA at home and 4.65 on the road.
Gray needs some adjustments to his repertoire (more specifically, his fastball) before he can consistently be a useful fantasy asset.
4. Carlos Rodón
This should be no surprise for anyone who has followed Carlos Rodón for some time—he’s got a beautiful slider. That’s been his biggest selling point ever since he entered the league and the pitch looked fantastic last year, posting a 33.5% chase rate, 17.5% SwStr rate, .148 wOBA against, and .019 ISO against.
But it wasn’t just his awesome slider that led Rodón to an incredible season with a 2.37 ERA, 2.65 FIP, and 34.6% strikeout rate. A big factor was his fastball, which was featured as the top fastball of 2021 in my fastballs article.
Rodón’s fastball saw a major improvement last year, increasing in velocity by two MPH and posting a .264 wOBA and .136 ISO against alongside a 32.8% chase rate and 13.8% SwStr rate (both of which are fantastic numbers for a fastball).
The only concern with Rodón is that he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher. That can work when your two pitches are as filthy as his are, but aside from his fastball and slider, Rodón has a changeup that got crushed (.419 wOBA and .245 ISO against) and a curveball he barely ever throws that got hit all 35 times he threw it last year.
Still, if his fastball/slider combo continues to be this filthy, I think he’ll be just fine.
3. Jacob deGrom
In what I’m sure is a shock to literally no one (unless this is your first time watching baseball), Jacob deGrom had a pretty sick slider last year.
In fact, deGrom has had a pretty sick slider for a long time (and was featured on the 2019 incarnation of this list). But last year, deGrom’s slider was really special, posting an absolutely absurd 49.6% chase rate (the highest chase rate in the league last year), a 34% SwStr rate (also the highest in the league last year), and a 59% strikeout rate.
And even if hitters did manage to hit the pitch (and not many did), they only had a .123 wOBA and .079 ISO against it.
I mean, I don’t know what there is to say about deGrom that hasn’t been said a million times already. The guy is on another planet when it comes to pitching, he’s truly incredible, no matter the pitch he’s throwing, and I just hope he stays healthy all year so we can enjoy it.
Another entry to the list that shouldn’t be all that shocking! In fact, Kershaw was on this list last year too!
Here’s something that’s kind of funny to me, and really shows how ridiculously good of a pitcher Clayton Kershaw is. Last year, Kershaw had the worst ERA he’s posted since his rookie year in 2008—and he had a 3.55 ERA last year.
That’s still pretty darn good, but in the context of a guy who’s thrown for under a 3.00 ERA every year since 2009 save for one, a 3.55 ERA actually ends up being the worst he’s done in 13 years. Absolutely wild.
Either way, Kershaw’s slider was once again awesome last year, posting a 48.3% chase rate (second-best in baseball), 26.9% SwStr rate, and a .255 wOBA against. It was also his most-thrown pitch for only the second season of his career (his slider was also his most-thrown pitch in 2018).
And I mean, when your slider is this good, why not throw it all the time? Especially since Kershaw’s fastball wasn’t nearly as effective as it’s been in years past, posting a .347 wOBA and .157 ISO against. Not terrible numbers, but not great either.
The big question about Kershaw is obviously health. He’s a free agent and also nearly 34-years-old. He hasn’t thrown 200 innings since 2015. But at the same time, his 3.55 ERA last year came with a 3.00 FIP and 3.10 SIERA, and he posted his best strikeout rate (29.5%) since 2017, so the guy still has top-level production in him.
I still think Kershaw will be a great pitcher in 2021, you’ll just have to deal with him missing some games at some point during the season.
1. Joe Musgrove
Another repeat entry in the pitch review series, Joe Musgrove was also featured in the top curveballs article.
Musgrove built his excellent season of a 3.18 ERA, 27.1% strikeout rate, and 1.08 WHIP on two pitches—this slider, and his curveball.
Let’s start with the slider: the pitch posted a 41.5% chase rate, 18.5% SwStr rate, and a .228 wOBA against, all fantastic numbers. Meanwhile, his curveball posted a 31.2% chase rate, 14.9% SwStr rate, and a .182 wOBA against.
Those two pitches are top-notch pitches, and Musgrove succeeded because his slider and curveball were his primary pitches. But other than those two, his repertoire isn’t great. His fastball posted a .386 wOBA and .227 ISO against last year, and his cutter had a .371 wOBA and .236 ISO against.
That’s not great, and it’s understandable if that concerns you about Musgrove, but there have been plenty of pitchers with junk fastballs who have had successful careers built on their excellent breaking pitches (I’m looking at you Carlos Carrasco). It’s possible Musgrove can still be great even if his fastballs don’t improve much.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)